Women are main guardians of crucial livestock diversity
FAO news release, 5 November 2012

ROME, ITALY: Women livestock keepers worldwide must be recognized as the major actors in efforts to stop the decline of indigenous breeds, crucial for rural food security and animal genetics, a new FAO study argues. Of the 600 million poor livestock keepers in the world, around two-thirds are women, whose men often have migrated to the cities. Yet women’s contribution to indigenous livestock breeding and conservation is poorly documented and undervalued, finds the study “Invisible Guardians: Women manage livestock diversity”, authored by Ilse Köhler-Rollefson. Indigenous breeds may not produce a lot of meat, milk or eggs, but are adapted to often harsh local conditions, are disease-resistant, thrive on easy to obtain local fodder or forage and generally take care of themselves. Such breeds are also a repository of irreplaceable genetic material. They often have traits such as disease-resistance that can be important for breeding programmes. And in a world threatened by climate change, breeds that are resistant to drought, extreme heat or tropical diseases are of major potential importance.

The advantages of indigenous breeds have been long known. Similarly, the importance of small-scale farmers and pastoralists as custodians of these resources is well recognized, but has never previously been disaggregated by gender. The differential roles of men and women have largely been neglected in studies of animal genetic resources management, but by piecing together several strands of argument and indirect evidence it can be concluded that women are the main guardians of livestock diversity. The study presents an analysis of women’s role in the sustainable use, development and conservation of animal genetic resources and asserts that the role of women in safeguarding and defending indigenous breeds and improving their genetics through careful breeding has not been appreciated. Case studies from many regions of the world illustrate that while to a degree women acquire their role as guardians of diversity by default because of global trends, many also make an active and conscious contribution to the management of animal genetic resources. The report recommends that gender issues are made central to projects, programmes and policies that focus on animal genetic resource management. Read the news release … Download the study [pdf] …